Trust, like reputation, is a priceless virtue. A highly valued but incredibly vulnerable commodity, it accumulates over a prolonged period. Conversely, it’s always at risk if new realities crash in and established perceptions are swept away.
Manuel Pellegrini now finds himself at a crossroads in his brief, but hitherto highly successful time as manager of Manchester City. The trust and belief in the affable, professorial-like Chilean is under scrutiny like never before.
But the ‘Engineer’ does not stand alone in the harsh glare of close examination as Manchester City’s malaise continues.
Director of Football Txiki Begiristain, Captain Vincent Kompany and the rest of the millionaires who have the honour of wearing the cherished City shirt, have to be called to account for an increasingly unacceptable turn of events.
And before anybody feels like wading in with their size 12 boots, this is not a knee-jerk, glory-hunting take on City’s ‘stop-start’ season so far. City are no different to any other club – they have no divine right to success – but major questions continue to go unanswered about alarming judgment calls and performance levels.
The idiom ‘a week is a long time in politics’ could just so easily be bastardised to ‘seven days being a long time in football’ – just contrast the two 1-1 draws contested most recently by City.
The point gained at Stamford Bridge – it should’ve been three – showed City to be superior to Chelsea, actually shut Jose Mourinho’s garrulous gob (sadly only temporarily) and indicated that the Champions of England had every chance of remaining just that, come May 24th, 2015.
The point salvaged at The Etihad against Hull, courtesy of a sublime James Milner free kick, came at the end of a miserable, disjointed and abject affair, where City looked like they’d fail to score, even with a $100 bill in a Thai brothel.
Poles apart in terms of tempo, commitment, passion, guile, creativity and tactical nous, City were ponderous, lacklustre, clueless and naive.
Pellegrini’s post match comments that his side was suffering from a ‘…lack of ideas…’ was a damning indictment on himself, his coaching staff and his players.
They should all be made to ‘face the wall’ in the dunce’s corner – let’s face it they’re all useless when it comes to corners!
Where’s Albert Einstein when you need him to take First Team training at the wonderful City Football Academy?
Despite never having any UEFA coaching badges to his name, Albert worked out that ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ was the definition of insanity…WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE PASS THE MESSAGE ON TO MANUEL, HIS COACHES & THE PLAYERS – FFS!
At least the old Maine Road humour was out in force at the Etihad, as supporters bet against each other as to whether the next City corner would beat the ‘first man’.
Not for a single moment did any in the 45,223 crowd entertain the prospect of a goal actually emanating from any of City’s 13 corners.
Dozens upon dozens of City corner kicks have presented no threat to the opposition all season long. The last time City had the ball in the net from a corner was Martin Demichelis’ equaliser at Arsenal in a 2-2 draw on September 13th. Statisticians claim it is now 220 corner kicks City have taken, without a goal resulting.
Mithering Manuel went on ‘…we don’t have the creative players in this moment to create the space and it is very difficult against a team like Hull, who defend very well.’
If that’s the case MP and Txiki, why buy the players that you have in the past 20 months and award contracts to some of the others last summer?
Only Yaya Toure was missing from the established nucleus of City’s title-winning sides, whereas Wilfried Bony has still to arrive and make his presence felt.
How on earth can Pellegrini complain about teams who come and defend in numbers, when his own team can’t defend against the aforementioned bus-parkers, on the rare occasions they have the temerity to launch a counter-attack?
City’s defence is a akin to an anxious bed-wetting child – it hasn’t seen a clean sheet for weeks – the last shut-out coming nine games ago before Christmas in the 3-0 win over Crystal Palace.
It was Keystone Cop ‘defending’ as the ball zipped around as if in a pinball machine – brilliantly saved by Hart, before ricocheting off Zabaleta, Fernandinho and the post before Hull’s David Meyler finally buried it past Hart in the 35th minute.
Hull would have already been one up if Elmohamaday’s header had been an inch or two lower, rather than smashing off Hart’s bar.
It’s almost treason to say it, but in his present vein of form, Kompany is the poorest defender in City’s line-up.
Hindered by injuries and seemingly uncomfortable when trying to maintain a high defensive line, the skipper is frequently diving in, missing tackles and leaving acres of space for opponents to exploit.
It may be that Kompany, who prefers to play in a deeper lying defensive formation – as it was with Roberto Mancini – will never be at his best in Pellegrini’s preferred set-up. Whatever the case, the Belgian is not above criticism and needs to sort himself out, sharpish.
Many of City’s ills rest with the ‘F’-ing midfield of Fernando and Fernandinho – two flaky Brazilians who, quite frankly, aren’t good enough for where City aspire to go.
It’s one of Pellegrini’s blind spots that he selects these two holding midfielders who just don’t work as a combination.
Dino – at £30m+ from Shakhtar Donetsk – was supposed to be the stellar signing in the summer of 2013. A dynamic box-to-box, goal-scoring midfielder, he was supposed to be a ‘game-changer’.
Nando, at a much cheaper £12m, was billed as the defensive midfield shield who would add steel and resilience in front of City’s back four, finally, finally giving the team the upgrade on the long-departed and much-lamented Nigel De Jong.
Javi Garcia didn’t manage it and Fernando is light years away. City would do well to offload their ‘F-men’ this summer and bring in the likes of Sami Khedira on a Bosman from Real Madrid.
Make no mistake City were poor and 74% possession and 18 attempts on goal do not tell the story.
That said, referee Jonathan Moss – which rhymes with dross and isn’t too far from toss-er – denied City a stonewall penalty when David Silva was bundled over by Alex Bruce. Even Bruce’s dad, Steve, the Tiger’s manager admitted he’d seen penalties given in such circumstances, that’s Manager-speak for ‘nailed on penalty’.
When City did create chances, Sergio Aguero displayed sublime skill in controlling Nasri’s lobbed pass with his right foot and then shooting with his left, only to see the ball rebound off Hull keeper, Allan McGregor’s bar.
Edin Dzeko forced the ex-Rangers stopper into a fine save when he volleyed a Zabaleta cross from 10 yards out.
Hull boss Bruce made the elephantine claim that his team should have won, but as sub-standard as City were, this was never a game they deserved to lose.
When Tom Huddlestone fouled Aguero in added time, it presented Milner with the free kick opportunity to snatch a point.
Always praised for his industry and lung-busting efforts, the man who could leave City on a Bosman this summer, conjured up some wonderful technique to curve his 25-yard strike around the wall into the narrowest of gaps.
Pellegrini and Begiristain have seen fit to spend/squander tens of millions of pounds on the likes of Dino, Nando, Jovetic and Mangala – none of whom have yet given real value for money – surely it’s not beyond their wit to re-sign Milner?
He proves his worth when players adjudged to be ‘better’ than him don’t pull their weight…and then there’s the small matter that he is homegrown and loves City.
MP’s substitution of Silva for Jovetic was perplexing as is City’s inability to ensure Merlin can link up with Sergio during games.
Tactically, Pellegrini has to find a way of combating teams who will try to keep Silva and Aguero 30 or 40 yards apart. This forces Aguero to come deeper to collect the ball, before then having to work his way through four or five defenders to get a clear sight of goal.
Silva is at his best as a central playmaker and Aguero excels when playing off the shoulder off the last defender.
Pellegrini said his players weren’t tired, in which case, why play at such a pedestrian pace with woefully predictable results?
Nasri was guilty – time and again – of slowing play down, taking one touch too many, pivoting with the ball and going nowhere fast.
With 42 points still up for grabs, it’ll be a while before it becomes mathematically impossible for City to retain the title. Pragmatically, a defeat at Stoke in midweek and a Chelsea win over Everton, would just about see the PL crown heading to London SW6.
It’s beginning to fall a little flat when City’s star players trot out ‘We Fight ‘Till the End’ remarks in post match interviews. The number of games are running out – the same as the patience of the fans who are fed up with platitudes.
Past glories and warm memories count for nothing at present. Trust and reputations are now on the line if City want to be recognised as perennial winners in English football.
By David Walker
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